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Custer's last battle to be re-enacted
Don Hudson and Everett Horn came from Michigan to be in color guard at the 2005 Custer's Last Stand Reenactment west of Hardin. There will be two reenactments this year of the Battle of Little Bighorn.

The Battle of the Little Bighorn will be relived this week in two sets of re-enactments that bring thundering horse hooves, shrieking war cries and clouds of dust right to the audience.

The Custer's Last Stand Reenactment is sponsored by the Hardin Chamber of Commerce on the rolling hills west of Hardin. The Real Bird re-enactment for the Battle of the Little Bighorn is hosted by a Crow Indian family and held on its land at the Real Bird Ranch near Garryowen.

"People get to basically go back in time over 100 years ago and relive the Battle of the Little Bighorn and get up close and personal with the people who portray the different parts," said Dave Riley, Custer's Last Stand Reenactment director.

The re-enactments are the highlights of five days of events that take place in Hardin and Crow Agency. Hardin hosts Little Bighorn Days, and Crow Agency hosts Crow Native Days. The towns are separated by about 15 miles of Interstate 90, making a short jaunt for visitors to take in events at both communities.

Here are some highlights from the events, both of which start today and continue through Sunday:

The Crow Nation's events start with a "Crows Against Meth Trail Ride" that begins about three miles south of Hardin at 10 a.m. and travels into Crow Agency for a noon lunch at the city park.

Several hundred riders are expected to ride the eight miles into Crow Agency. At each of four stops along the way, tribal leaders will speak to the youths about avoiding methamphetamine and about the ride's theme "respect yourself," said Burton Pretty On Top, tribal public relations director.

"This is unique — this many riders gathered and telling our youths the do's and don'ts about meth and drugs and alcohol," he said.

Crow Native Days started in the 1990s as a tribal alternative to the events in Hardin.

"So that people didn't have to go to Hardin," Pretty On Top said. "That first year we put up an arbor for the powwow. Very few Crows knew about it, so there was low attendance that first year, but, from that point to present day, it has really grown."

The events now span five days, wrapping up at midnight on Sunday, and are a draw for Crows and non-Indians alike, he said. That includes the vendors and the veterans and their families who have been invited to be honored.

"We're reaching out across reservation lines to the non-Indian population to come and visit with us," Pretty On Top said. "We're trying to build bridges and cultural diversity."

Events include rodeos, Tribal Elders Program health walks, Indian relay races and a basketball tournament. The Miss Native Days Pageant is held during Native Days, as are Ultimate Warrior competitions for men and women. The public is also invited to attend powwows and other dances each evening.

Veterans will be honored on Friday, beginning at 10 a.m. with a parade that makes its way to Veterans Park for ceremonies. Black Hawk helicopters will bring paratroopers from the 10th Special Forces Airborne stationed in Fort Carson, Colo., who will parachute in about 11 a.m. They are also scheduled to jump at 2 p.m. on Sunday during the battle re-enactment at the Real Bird Ranch.

Gov. Brian Schweitzer and Attorney General Mike McGrath are scheduled to speak on Friday. There will be tribal presentations to veterans. Leaders of the Large Land-based Tribes are also on the speakers' list.

Crow Tribal Chairman Carl Venne will host a reception/feast at the powwow grounds beginning at 12:30 p.m.

The Battle of the Little Bighorn re-enactments are held at the Real Bird family ranch, at the Medicine Trail Coulee, beginning at 2 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The re-enactment includes about 40 cavalry members and a large war party of American Indians. Cost is $12 for adults.

In Hardin, the Little Bighorn Days schedule includes a quilt show hosted by Big Horn Quilters and Under Cover Gals, historical book fair and downtown arts and crafts fair. Tours of the Big Horn County Historical Museum are ongoing, and there are field trips on Saturday.

Held six miles west of Hardin, the Custer's Last Stand Reenactment shows are at 1:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday and at 5 p.m. Saturday. Tickets cost $16 for adults and $7 for children, ages 5 and younger are admitted free. Re-enactors mingle with the crowd before and after the performances.

From what Riley, the director, has heard, this year's re-enactment might have one of the largest casts in its history. Usually, about 250 people are involved, but, with the number of people who have contacted organizers about participating, "this could be one of the biggest performances we've ever had," Riley said.

Lonnie Custer of Billings will play the part of George Armstrong Custer. Although he has no direct information that he is a direct descendant of the brevet general, Lonnie Custer says their ancestors emigrated from the same area of Eastern Europe to America and both families made their early homes in the same area of Ohio, according to the Hardin Chamber of Commerce.

Riley said Lonnie Custer played Custer in the action scenes "back in the '90s."

"He's a horseman and the guy who played Custer back then wasn't," Riley said. "They would switch behind the stage."

Crow historian, Joe Medicine Crow, a war chief and one of the oldest living Crow tribal members, wrote the script for the performance based on family history. Medicine Crow had a grandfather who was a scout for Custer. Medicine Crow, 91, plans to attend some performances.

"When he's there, it really adds some flavor," Riley said. "The performance itself is told by the only survivors — Indians. It has Native American flavor, is historically correct and you get a chance to be about 100 feet away from one of the major cavalry gun battles of the 1800s."

Before and after the re-enactments, a variety of events will take place in Hardin, including the annual 1876 Grand Ball held Thursday evening. During the ball, participants are dressed in authentic costumes and perform period dances and customs.

The fun also takes to the streets with the Old West Youth Parade at 11 a.m. Friday and the "Way Out West" parade at 10 a.m. Saturday. The Saturday parade includes the Al Bedoo Shrine Black Horse Patrol. The patrol will also be at the re-enactment pre-show on Saturday.

The Little bighorn Symposium is held on Friday. Speakers will talk about various aspects of the battle, and discussion is encouraged.

Contact Becky Shay at bshay@billingsgazette.com or 657-1231.


Little Big Horn Days

Events in or near Hardin

Schedule subject to change

Wednesday

10 a.m.—7 p.m.: Big Horn Quilters and Under Cover Gals Quilt Show. Big Horn County Library. 419 Custer Ave. Free.

7-9 p.m.: 1876 Grand Ball Dance Lessons. Big Horn County Fairgrounds. $5.

Thursday

9 a.m.-6. p.m.: Historical Book Fair. 416 N. Center Ave., Hardin. Sponsored by Custer Battlefield Historical and Museum Association.

10 a.m.-7 p.m.: Big Horn Quilters and Under Cover Gals Quilt Show. Big Horn County Library, Free.

5-7 p.m.: BBQ beef dinner. 402 N. Center Ave. $6. Sponsored by First Interstate Bank Relay for Life team; proceeds go to American Cancer Society.

7:30 p.m.: Grand Ball Preshow. 8:15 p.m., Grand March. 8:30-11 p.m., Grand Ball. Big Horn County Fairgrounds. $15, participants in period dress; $5, observers in street clothes.

Friday

9 a.m.: Guided tours of Big Horn County Historical Museum.

9 a.m.-4 a.m.: Little Big Horn Symposium. Centre Cinema, 318 Center Ave. Sponsored by Custer Battlefield Historical and Museum Association. $10.

9 a.m.-6 p.m.: Arts and Crafts Fair, Downtown Center Ave., sponsored by Jail House Gallery. Historical Book Fair, 416 N. Center Ave.

10 a.m.-6 p.m.: Big Horn Quilters and Under Cover Gals Quilt Show. 410 N. Custer. Free.

11 a.m.: Old West Youth Parade. Downtown Hardin. Sponsored by Hardin Kiwanis.

1:30 p.m.: Custer's Last Stand Reenactment. Six miles west of Hardin. $16, adults; $7, ages 6-12; free, ages 5, younger.

3 p.m.: Guided tours. Big Horn County Historical Museum.

5-8 p.m.: Pork Dinner Benefit. Hardin High cafeteria, 702 N.Terry Ave. Sponsored by Hardin AAU Wrestling Club. Fee charged.

7:30 p.m.: "General Custer's Libbie." Alberta Bair Theater, Billings. Sponsored by Elizabeth B. Custer Library and Museum. 638-2020.

Saturday

6:30-9:30 a.m.: Cowboy Breakfast. St. Joseph. Catholic Church, 710 N. Custer Ave. Sponsored by Catholic Daughters. $5; free, ages 5, younger.

7:30 a.m.-5 p.m: Custer Related Historic Field Trip. Sponsored by Custer Battlefield Historical and Museum Association.

9 a.m.: Guided tours. Big Horn County Historical Museum.

9 a.m.-6 p.m.: Arts and Crafts Fair, Downtown Center Ave. Also Historical Book Fair, 416 N. Center Ave.

10 a.m.: "Way OutWest" Parade. Downtown Center Ave. Sponsored by Chamber of Commerce, First Interstate Bank.

10 a.m.—5 p.m.: Big Horn Quilters and Under Cover Gals Quilt Show. Big Horn County Library, 419 N. Custer Ave.

11 a.m.—7 p.m.: Scandinavian Dinner. 310 N. Terry Ave. Sponsored by First American Church. $8.50, adults; $4, children; free, ages 5, younger; $25, family.

1:30, 5 p.m.: Custer's Last Stand Reenactment. Six miles west of Hardin. $16, adults; $7, ages 6-12; free, ages 5, younger.

3 p.m.: Guided tours. Big Horn County Historical Museum.

7 p.m.: Bed races. Downtown Center Avenue.

8:30 p.m.—1:30 a.m.: Street dance. Downtown Center Avenue.

Sunday

7:30-10 a.m.: Country Breakfast. Big Horn County Fairgrounds. Sponsored by First Congregational Church. $5, adults; free, ages 6, younger.

9 a.m.—4 p.m.: Arts and Crafts Fair. Downtown Center Avenue.

11 a.m.: Old-Time Gospel Service, nondenominational. Big Horn County Fairgrounds. Free.

1:30 p.m.: Custer's Last Stand Reenactment. Six miles west of Hardin. $16, adults; $7, ages 6-12; free, ages 5, younger.

Crow Native Days

In Crow Agency

Schedule subject to change

Today

10 a.m.: Continuing War on Drugs, Crows Against Meth Trail Ride, "Respect Yourself," Hardin to Crow Agency Park. Lunch follows.

10 a.m.: Miss Native Days Pageant at Crow Park.

Thursday

Youth Rodeo at Edison Real Bird Memorial Complex.

8 a.m.: Crow Tribal Elders Program Health Walk. Start at Casino Parking lot. 638-4485.

10 a.m.: Meeting of Large Land Based Tribes. Miss Native Days Pageant continues by grandstand. Entries close for Ultimate Lady and Warrior Challenges (open to American Indians only) on Friday.

Friday

8 a.m.: Crow Tribal Elders Program Health Walk. Start at Casino parking lot.

10 a.m.: Parade, starting at Gas Cap Hill, through town to Veterans Park.

11 a.m.: Flyover at Veterans Park. Black Hawk helicopters, parachute drop by 12-member 10th Special Forces group from Fort Carson.

11:10 a.m.: "Flag Song" by Wranglers; National Anthem by Vestal Blacksmith; "God Bless the USA" by Linda Birdin Ground; Talk and Pipe Ceremony by Barney Old Coyote, World War II veteran. Welcome address and acknowledgement of special guests. fallen Montana soldiers commemoration. Presentation of Warrior Certificates to World War II veterans by Crow Tribal Chairman Carl Venne. Speech by Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer (invitation extended). Speeches by Navajo Chairman Joe Shirley; Three Affiliated Tribes Chairman Tex Hall; Cecelia Fire Thunder, president of Ogalala Sioux Tribe; Packeneau, chairman of ITMA; General Mosley (TBC). Acknowledgement of 10th Special Forces (Paratroopers).

12:30 p.m.: Chairman's reception-feast at Powwow Grounds. Shoshone Victory Dance at Powwow Grounds. All youth games begin — basketball, bike races, runs, Shinny games. Basketball challenges start with teams from Montana, Wyoming and North Dakota.

2 p.m.: Battle of Little Big Horn at Real Bird Ranch at Medicine Tail Coulee.

4 p.m.: Team Roping and Horse Races at Edison Real Bird Complex.

7 p.m.: Open Push Dance and Round Dance Singing by local drum groups and Miss Native Days Pageant Finals by grandstand.

9:30 p.m.: "Our Way of Life" presentation at Edison Real Bird Memorial Complex.

10:30. p.m.: Fireworks display at Edison Real Bird Memorial Complex.

Midnight: Wrap-up of Friday's activities.

Saturday

8 a.m.: Crow Tribal Elders Program. Health Walk starts at casino parking lot. All participants will receive T-shirts.

9 a.m.: Ultimate Lady Challenge (three person teams) starts with run. All youth games continue (each venue has own time schedules). Moccasin foot races at Grandstand.

11 a.m.: Ultimate Challenge races completed in front of grandstand at Edison Real Bird Memorial Complex.

11:30 a.m.: Indian Relay Races.

Noon: Basketball Challenge continues at Apsaalooke Center. 3-on-3 basketball at Little Big Horn Casino parking lot.

2 p.m.: Battle of Little Big Horn at Real Bird Ranch in Garryowen at Historic Medicine Tail Coulee.

4 p.m.: NPIRA Rodeo and Horse Races at Grandstand. Bicycle races continue.

6 p.m.: Registration opens for powwow at Arbor.

7 p.m.: Contest Powwow starts at Arbor by Casino. Two Olders Crow Male and Female will be honored at noon Saturday, immediately following Ultimate Lady Challenge in front of grandstand.

Sunday

9 a.m.: Ultimate Warrior Challenge (one person) begins with canoeing, followed by 4-mile run, followed by three-horse bareback relay, running 1-1/2-mile course per horse. Moccasin foot races continue on race track.

11 a.m.: Ultimate Warrior Challenge finishes in front of grandstand.

11:30 a.m.: Indian Relay Races.

Noon: Basketball Challenge continues at Apsaalooke Center. Youth games continue.

2 p.m.: Battle of Little Big Horn at Real Bird Ranch in Garryowen at Medicine Tail Coulee.

4 p.m.: Open rodeo or team roping and horse races at Edison Real Bird Memorial Complex.

6 p.m.: Contest Powwow continues with finals in all categories.

8 p.m.: Awarding of special prizes to various youth games and adult competition.

11 p.m.: Winners in dancing contests announced.

Midnight: Native Days 2006 closes.

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